Stop telling your husband what to do, what to wear, what to say and how to do things, even if you think you’re helping. As much as possible, mind your own business.
Recognize that when your urge to control him comes up, you may be feeling fear that isn’t appropriate to the situation.
Write down five situations where you have been controlling with your husband recently.
For each situation, ask yourself what it was you were afraid would happen?
- Was your fear realistic?
- What was the worst-case scenario?
- Was this more important than respecting and being intimate with your husband?
Practice facing your fear and relinquishing control of your husband to create room for intimacy, and to become the best person you can be.
Just underneath the urge to control is fear–big fear. I’d go so far as to call it terror. But what is it we’re so afraid of?
Many women are terrified that their husbands won’t know how to perform everyday duties properly when left to their own devices. These women are convinced that their husbands are so inept that they are a perpetual threat to the whole family’s well-being— unless the wives step in.
This belief is so prevalent that every day I see exhausted, exasperated women who insist that unless they manage how their husband does everything— be it parenting, tracking the finances, performing in his job, or even brushing his teeth— things will fall apart.
Some women say they are afraid to leave the children with their own father while they go out because they’re “sure” he won’t bother to make them a proper dinner or put them to bed on time or check to see that their homework is completed. Others doubt their husbands’ ability to plan an enjoyable evening out or to negotiate a good deal on a car. I have to smile when women tell me these kinds of concerns, because I remember not too long ago, I thought the same way.
Now I challenge those familiar fallacies by asking “Do you think he would let the kids starve? Do you think you’ll go bankrupt buying a mini-van?”
As irrational as it sounds, the short answer to those questions is, “Yes.”
Women feel the need to control because they fear that if they don’t take matters into their own hands, their needs will go unmet.
It is possible that your husband is thoughtless or inept, but until you give him your complete trust over a sustained period of time, you can’t be sure. Chances are he is a great guy who spends most of his time defending himself against your criticism.
Until you stop trying to run his life, you’ll never know what it’s truly like to be married to your husband. I am not saying that you are the cause of your husband’s shortcomings. Your husband is always completely responsible for his own actions. If he is a poor father or neglects his family, that is not his wife’s fault.
At the same time, if you are nagging, undermining, criticizing or disrespecting him, you are crushing his confidence, intellect, and potential–both emotionally and financially.
“I have not ceased being fearful, but I have ceased to let fear control me. I have accepted fear as a part of life, specifically the fear of change, the fear of the unknown, and I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back, turn back, you’ll die if you venture too far.” – Erica Jong
The “No-Control” Date
My own terror was so strong that I had great difficulty going with my husband on what we called the “no-control date.”
My therapist encouraged me to experiment with the concept of trusting my husband by agreeing to go on a date where he made all the decisions– just for one night.
On this particular date, he was to tell me how to dress and what time to be ready. He would also drive, pick a restaurant, order for me, pick up the check and plan any other activities for this one evening. This would give me the opportunity to relax and practice trusting him to be in charge for a change.
It would also demonstrate that despite my superiority complex, my husband would indeed give me what I needed and wanted, right down to ordering my favorite meal for dinner. Agreeing to do this exercise meant I would deliberately be vulnerable–a state that I would normally do anything to avoid.
The therapist must have known that I would have trouble letting go when she assigned the exercise. She must have realized that my habit of calling all the shots would be hard to turn off, even for one night, and that it would be impossible to sit with my fear.
I did so poorly with this experiment that by the time we were backing out of the driveway, I had already figured out where John was taking me and I was telling him the best way to get there. At the restaurant, I told him where to park and squirmed anxiously in my chair as he ordered the dinner I had strategically mentioned appealed to me.
The service that night was abominable. The food took far too long and the waitress ignored us in the meantime. I told my husband I would ask to speak to the manager and get him to give us our dinners for free because of the extraordinary wait. John assured me we were in no hurry and that he was happy to pay for the dinner. He said he was just enjoying the opportunity to sit and talk with me!
I was beside myself with fear and discomfort. When we finally left the restaurant, I begged him to please take me home (instead of to the movies as he had planned) because I was so distressed. But why was I terrified to be out on a date with my husband? It made no sense!
At no point during the evening was I in any danger of being hurt, embarrassed, bored, deprived, or even having to eat something I didn’t like. But to see how I acted, you might have thought I was going before a firing squad. That’s how big my fear was. In reality, my terror had nothing to do with him. I was with a man who knows me well and wants me to be happy. In fact, I was terrified of being out of control long before I met him.
Dominating a situation, however ungraciously, somehow made me feel grounded and safe in an unpredictable world.
Finally, as I tried to give up my unpleasant behavior, I learned to dig a little deeper when my urge to control came up and simply say that I was afraid. Unfortunately, this was only a little better in terms of healing my relationship and restoring intimacy. It wasn’t until I discovered my “trust muscles”–and started exercising them–that I started to get the connection I’d always wanted.
When Amy talked about her husband, she explained to me that there is always a reason she needs to control his actions. The reason he should eat less red meat is because it’s better for his health. The reason he should take one route to the city and not the other is because it would save time and hassle. The reason he should install the curtains her way is because it’s more efficient. The real “reason” Amy can’t stop controlling her husband is because she’s terrified that if she relinquishes even the tiniest bit of control for a minute, she will lose something precious to her.
In this case, she fears losing her husband to heart disease, or having to wait for him because he doesn’t know the efficient way to get to work or fix up the house. Like most controlling people, Amy is very bright, and has a distinct set of ideas about what should happen, and how.
Telling her husband how to do things provides her with the illusion of safety, but what she has also done is signaled to him that she doesn’t trust him.
“If a relationship is to evolve, it must go through a series of endings.” – Lisa Moriyama
Excerpted from The Surrendered Wife: A Practical Guide To Finding Intimacy, Passion and Peace by Laura Doyle. Copyright 2002 © Laura Doyle. Reprinted with Permission of Touchstone, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
About the author
Laura Doyle is a radio talk show host and The New York Times best-selling author of The Surrendered Wife, The Surrendered Single and Things Will Get as Good as You Can Stand. Her books have been translated into 15 languages and published in 26 countries. Thousands of women credit her with not only saving their relationships, but also showing them how to become desired, cherished and adored.
She is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and the founder of Laura Doyle Connect, a multi-national company that provides relationship coaching for single women, girlfriends and wives all over the world. In 2013 she was named a quarter-finalist for Change The World: Search for the Next Global Thought Leader.
She has appeared on CBS Evening News, Dateline NBC, The Today Show and The View. She has been written about in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The London Telegraph and The New Yorker.
Laura lives in Newport Beach, California with her hilarious husband John Doyle, who has been dressing himself since before she was born.
To know more about Laura, visit her website www.lauradoyle.org.